Have you ever heard the saying “You don’t know what you don’t know?” Over the last several years, it has become very apparent to me the significance of this statement. Your experiences shape who you are, how you see things, and how you process problems. Everyone has different experiences which lead to very different perspectives, or points of view. As a result, what may seem obvious to one person is in stark contrast to someone with different life experiences, and neither are actually wrong. This dichotomy is where respecting perspective is so incredibly important. The moment that we realize that we can feel 100 percent right about something and our classmate, coworker, or relative can feel equally convicted of their opinion without becoming hostile or defensive, we have leveled up in the world of being good humans with compassion.
An example I share with many people who struggle with others’ perspectives is the phrase, “That person should pull themselves up by their bootstraps” (meaning, you should improve your circumstances through your own efforts). This phrase makes the assumption that everyone has boots (shoes, etc.) that they CAN pull up—that is not always the case. Your perspective and assumptions (even if untrue) can affect your opinion of someone else and how they live life.
A person who has been the victim of a violent crime will have a different perspective on response to domestic violence than someone who has never experienced it. A person who has been a victim of a natural disaster is likely to have a different thought process surrounding recovery efforts than someone who has never experienced a storm. Neither may be wrong—they just have very different perspectives as a result of their experiences.
When we find ourselves at a standstill with someone, we may feel somewhat angry and frustrated that we can’t force them to see things the way that we do. This is where compassion needs to enter and often does not. In this situation, compassion, at the very least, is understanding that we can co-exist peacefully with our differing opinions, or if we are feeling very emotionally mature, we can attempt to look at a situation from someone else’s perspective. Patience, both with ourselves and others, is necessary during this process. Growth nor a change in mindset happen overnight. It can literally require the deconstruction of a lifetime’s culmination of your truths to change your perspective. The end goal doesn’t have to be to change your own outlook, but to respect that other perspectives can and do exist, and to treat those with compassion and respect.
As we started our adoption journey, I was determined to do it the right way—as if there is a manual for getting it all right. I read an insane amount of articles and joined so many groups on social media to get a perspective that I didn’t have: the birth mother and the adult adoptee. I quickly realized that the perspectives among the adoption triad (adoptive family, birth family, and adoptee) vary greatly. I also quickly realized the very existence and danger of something called echo chambers– environments where a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered. In these echo chambers, no one is challenged to see anything from a different perspective. No one hears stories from another perspective. They hear what they think and then echo, echo, echo. Echo chambers are generally much happier places, but they are not a place where growth can occur. It is not a place where you can stand toe to toe with someone, and LISTEN to their story, with the intent to hear them and believe them, despite whether it conflicts with your own version of that narrative. Echo chambers do not tend to be a place of compassion. They tend to be a place where if you have a perspective or experience outside the general consensus, you are not welcome there.
Both in the adoption world and outside of it (hello, political world), we all need to do a better job at entering any space with the intent of having compassion and understanding for those who do not agree with us. It is likely they have a different perspective not because of a lack of information, a lack of knowledge, or a lack of people lined up to tell them how to feel, but because of very real life experiences and those should be respected. When we come together with respect for each other’s perspectives, we are able to hear real feelings and experiences. Hearing those stories instead of trying to rewrite them for the storyteller because they make you feel uncomfortable is a very difficult, but amazing thing to do for someone. Through this listening, you may find yourself learning a whole new perspective that changes everything you once thought to be true. Because, in fact, you don’t know what you don’t know. And furthermore, when you know better, hopefully, you do better.